by Joe Melton

An austere economy welcomed Sinners and Saints Tattoos when it opened in February 2010. Then last-minute complications threw the entire effort into doubt, owner/artist Nick Hughes said.

“An artist out of Charlotte – who had a major following – was supposed to come work for me. When I told him we were open, he said ‘I’ve changed my mind and I’m going to stay where I am.’ So there I was in an area where no one knew who I was,” Hughes said.

Hughes hired artist A.J. Lingerfeldt, but business remains on shaky ground.

“It was pretty touch and go for the first year,” Hughes said. “The second year got much better, and we’ve reached a point now where we’ve just hired a new artist from Ohio, Matt Simmons, to help with the overload.”

That overload comes despite competition. When Hughes opened, he was the only tattoo shop between Charlotte and Mooresville. Now there are three, Hughes said.

The former French Foreign Legion commando and professional bodyguard doesn’t like monotony.

“People ask me why I gave up bodyguarding,” he said in 2010. “If you do it right, it’s boring. Launching a business in the middle of a recession is way more challenging and stressful than that was, ever.”

His work as a bodyguard in England convinced him to open his own business. “When I started bodyguarding the rich and famous,” he said, “and I saw their lifestyle and the freedom money provided, I realized ‘yeah, I’d like a little bit of that.’”

Sinners and Saints is flourishing today despite early setbacks. Aside from adding the third artist, Hughes is considering plans for more expansion.

“We’re looking at renewing the lease where we are for another five years and at expanding down on the coast,” Hughes said.

Expansion and diversification are vital parts of Hughes’ business plan. His military background partially accounts for that.

“You don’t go into war with one soldier,” Hughes said. “Go in with an army, spread your resources around. Business is war. If you have only one shop, you’re limiting yourself to one area. It’s not safe anymore to put all your eggs in one basket. I’m a big believer in multiple streams of income.”

While Sinners and Saints grows, Hughes has diversified by opening other businesses.

“I have a Krav Maga (Israeli unarmed combat) school, I have a business training SWAT teams and executive protection, and we’re looking at releasing smart phone apps for security, all based out of Cornelius. Also, I have a book now out on Amazon and four others in the offing.”

But Hughes cautions against getting too carried away. “One shouldn’t think too long term,” he said. “It’s too speculative. I believe in the 3-7 year length of time. It gives you the flexibility to change and do something else,” he said.

Hughes hasn’t achieved the lifestyle of the rich and famous yet, but Sinners and Saints – and lessons learned – have him well on his way.